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Amid 1-2 start, Kevin Durant says ‘of course’ Brooklyn Nets have enough to win without Kyrie Irving

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NEW YORK — After Kevin Durant and James Harden were the only two Nets players to score in double figures Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets, Durant said Brooklyn is not losing confidence amid a 1-2 start and has enough to win without Kyrie Irving.

Durant, who poured in 38 points in the 111-95 loss, was asked twice if he thinks the Nets have enough to win without their starting point guard, especially when things get tough in games.

“While we are playing in a game, I am not going to sit there and say … when we get down or it is a tight game, like ‘Damn, we don’t have enough,'” Durant said. “We are not going to be thinking about [that] during the game. We definitely want Kyrie Irving out here on the floor. And he is a huge part of what we do. But it is not happening right now. So we got to figure it out.

“But no one is going to lose confidence while we playing and hope Kyrie comes to save us during the game. No, we got to play. Everybody here is confident in what they do. We just got to play.”

The Nets have started the regular season like it’s an extended preseason. Coach Steve Nash has been experimenting with different lineups and rotations to adjust to the absence of Irving, who has not complied with New York City’s vaccine mandate of getting at least one vaccination shot in order to play at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks.

In last week’s season opener, the Nets were outhustled and outmuscled by the Milwaukee Bucks, who routed them 127-104. They then needed a triple-double from Durant and to score 16 of the game’s final 17 points to beat the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.

On Sunday, demonstrators stood outside Barclays Center to voice support for Irving’s stance on not getting vaccinated. Inside the arena, the Nets could’ve used Irving, as Durant and Harden (15 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds) were the only two Nets to score at least 10 points.

The Nets were outscored 32-17 in the fourth quarter, with Durant scoring 9 points and Harden adding 4 in the frame.

“Yeah,” Durant repeatedly answered when asked if the Nets have enough to win. “I am not about to say there’s not going to [be] enough out here. I am not going to say that. I feel like we had a nice control of the game in the first half. They played a better second half.

“It’s three games in. Of course, we have enough.”

Harden, who tried to play through a hamstring strain in the second round of the 2020-21 playoffs, said he is still building his confidence as he starts this season. One thing that could help the former MVP is getting to the line with the frequency he is used to.

Harden is averaging 18.3 points, 8.0 assists and 7.3 rebounds but has gone to the line just nine times in three games. He averaged 10.1 or more trips to the line per game from 2014-15 to 2019-20.

Nash believes the rules changes for this season on the officiating of “overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves” of offensive players with the ball looking to draw fouls, especially inside, has wrongly hurt Harden.

“I feel like he’s unfairly become the poster boy of not calling these fouls,” Nash said. “Some of them are definitely fouls still. But they’re just so alert and aware and he’s the poster child of these new decisions … I get it, there’s a line, but some of them are still fouls.”

“I think it’s on the drive,” Nash explained of when he thinks Harden isn’t getting calls. “They’re hyper aware of him reaching for guy’s arms. But guys aren’t set, and they’re getting caught not in a legal guarding position, bumping him. That’s a foul; that has nothing to do with the hands. Those are the ones that I take a little exception to. But James will get there.”

Harden had one free throw against Charlotte but isn’t complaining.

“No matter how much of a big deal we try to make it, a foul’s a foul,” Harden said. “It’s pretty simple. I feel like they’re putting too much emphasis on rules, and not even rules, but certain people to where you look at it as clear fouls. For me, you’ve just got to keep going. No big deal.”

“… I’m not the type to complain about it,” Harden later added. “I ask every official, if they see a foul, just call a foul. Sometimes, I feel like, coming into a game, it’s already pre-determined or I have a stigma getting foul calls. But I just ask for the officials to just call what they see.”

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MRI shows no structural damage to knee of Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine

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CHICAGO — Bulls guard Zach LaVine is not expected to miss significant time after an MRI on Saturday morning showed no structural damage to his left knee.

LaVine will be reevaluated early next week, the team said. LaVine did not travel with the team for its game Saturday night in Boston, and he will begin targeted therapy on his knee before the Bulls can offer a more definitive timeline.

“Well, obviously very optimistic and very grateful that it wasn’t something more,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “That’s why they wanted to do the MRI, so he’ll continue to get therapy and we’ll re-evaluate him after a period of time. I don’t think it’s something that’s long-term, which is a good thing. So the biggest thing is how does he respond to therapy, treatment, those kinds of things.

“I think once they see how he responds to the therapy there will be a clearer view of when a return date will be possible.”

LaVine landed awkwardly while grabbing an offensive rebound during the first quarter of Friday’s game against the Golden State Warriors. He took an intentional foul on the next play before taking himself out of the game.

The Bulls were optimistic after Friday’s game that LaVine had avoided a major injury, but wanted to proceed with caution considering LaVine tore the ACL in the same knee in 2017 while playing for the Timberwolves.

In 38 games for Chicago this season, LaVine is averaging 24.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists while shooting 49% from the field.

In addition to LaVine, the Bulls will also be without Lonzo Ball on Saturday night as he is experiencing left knee soreness.

“(Saturday) morning when we met he still had some soreness in that joint and just wanted to rest him and have him sit out,” Donovan said. “I don’t want to say day-to-day … when I say day-to-day, it’s not like this game, and he’s back for Memphis. I think right now for the Memphis game he would be doubtful until he goes through treatment and therapy and see how he feels and if the soreness subsides and how quickly it subsides.”

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Dallas Mavericks get Kristaps Porzingis, coach Jason Kidd back from health and safety protocols

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DALLAS — Mavericks power forward/center Kristaps Porzingis has cleared the NBA’s health and safety protocols after missing the past seven games and is expected to play in Saturday night’s home game against the Orlando Magic.

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd also cleared the protocols.

Dallas won six of the seven games missed by Porzingis, who is averaging 20.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. The Mavs went 3-1 during Kidd’s absence, when defensive coordinator Sean Sweeney served as the acting head coach.

A source said Porzingis felt well in recent days and had been able to do individual workouts.

Porzingis’ clearance makes center Marquese Chriss ineligible to play for the Mavericks while he remains on a 10-day hardship deal that expires Thursday.

Sources said the Mavericks are considering their options to sign Chriss for the remainder of the season, which would require a move to create an open roster spot.

Chriss has played in 12 games over three 10-day deals with the Mavericks, averaging 6.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game while shooting 63% from the floor.

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Chicago Bulls star guard Zach LaVine to have MRI on injured left knee

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CHICAGO — Bulls guard Zach LaVine exited Friday’s 138-96 loss to the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter with a left knee injury and did not return.

LaVine did not travel with the team to Boston for its matchup against the Celtics on Saturday night, and instead will remain in Chicago to receive an MRI. There’s initial confidence that he hasn’t suffered a serious injury, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

LaVine appeared to begin laboring after grabbing an offensive rebound with just under nine minutes remaining in the first quarter. On the next play, he took an intentional foul on Warriors guard Stephen Curry before taking himself out of the game.

He immediately walked toward the Bulls’ locker room with a team trainer, but LaVine was able to move under his own power.

“The MRI will tell a lot more once he gets that done,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said after the game. “I don’t want to sit here and speculate … he kind of came down a little funny, and he’s got some discomfort there right now and they want to take a look. He didn’t feel like he could return.”

Chicago has had its depth tested recently without guard Alex Caruso (health and safety), Derrick Jones Jr. (knee), Javonte Green (groin) and Tyler Cook (ankle).

LaVine is averaging 25.6 points on 49% shooting (41% from 3), 4.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 37 games for the Bulls this season.

The Warriors took over following LaVine’s injury, closing the first half on a 64-37 run. The Bulls lost by 42 points on Friday after losing by 26 points to the Nets on Wednesday. It’s the first time a conference leader has lost consecutive games by an average of 30 points since the NBA went to two conferences in 1970, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.

“These two games should be all the motivation that we need to step up, play hard, play for one another,” Bulls star DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s just another challenge that we got to face. We can’t complain about it. Can’t whine about it. Can’t look for no extra help. It’s on us.”

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